Some ingredients can be a complete bugger to get hold of can’t they? I’m talking of course from my personal situation of living in the less than central Beckenham, god knows how you cope if you live any further from the centre of the world that always appears to be London from where-ever I’m sitting. We may now have a lovely coffee shop, hi Fee and Brown, but little more bourgeois than that, no farmers markets, no overpriced deli’s stuffed with well sourced delectables or cosy gastropubs with roaring fires. No. We’re just that little bit too far outside London’s influence, it’ll come no doubt, but not until London’s well and truly moved on. There’s the Penge Food Centre and cookware shop 20 minutes to our right that is useful for satisfying Turkish bread and baklava cravings, spices and cheap fruit and veg, Kilner jars, crockery and glassware oddments but anything remotely niche you do tend to need to travel for. Oh how I miss living just a tiny bit further in, Peckham feels a whole world away now, I was never far from abundant produce and ingredients care of the many shops along Rye Lane and the fabulous Persepolis, MeatWagon burgers in The Rye, thin and crispy pizzas at The Gowlett and incredible Southern Indian food and *those* parathas at Ganapati. Sigh.
Bearing in mind train travel, other than for an occasion, is out of my budget at this, the very driest month of the year, where a zone 4 off peak Travelcard is now £8 and sadly nudges a ‘quick’ or ‘cheap’ trip to try a new or favourite coffee shop over the £10 barrier, add a slice of cake or sandwich and you could almost have a set lunch at a fairly high end restaurant. It makes speciality coffee even more so. It certainly rules out a a central London grocery shop.
It’s that blink and you’ll miss it blood orange season right now, and last year when I had the idea for this cake I’m afraid I blinked and missed that blood red stained window altogether. A tweet from Franklins last week informed me that not only did they have them in but would reserve me a bagful, this gave me no choice but to trudge the nearly 5 miles, well I wasn’t doing much else anyway and Beckenham pretty much grinds to a halt at the mere mention of the word snow. It granted me a bitter but beautiful walk to East Dulwich through frozen icing sugar dusted South East London and a chance to pop into very sweet cafe Luca’s to thaw out where I had a not bad at all Allpress espresso and almost mousse like light almond and orange cake. I may have also have snuck into Franklins restaurant next door for a restorative glass of red before my bracing walk back, MUST pop back for food another time as everything looked and sounded fantastic.
I first had the idea for this cake last year when I discovered blood orange infused olive oil at Borough Market, I thought it would be incredible to enhance and meld the flavours in a blood orange olive oil cake, I planned to play on the bitter flavours that I love, and occur as an almost grapefruit sharpness in the oranges, by adding Campari. I never did get around to co-ordinating the two ingredients and ended up eating a lot of fennel, almond and blood orange salad in the interim, I suggest you do the same if you ever get hold of any. I still haven’t managed to organise myself enough to have both ingredients to hand but do at least now have the oranges so thought I’d better just go for it.
Of course it’s near impossible to create anything original any more and a quick Google confirmed that theory, throwing up many variations on *my* idea, I’ve also just noticed that Florence Knight has a Blood Orange and Campari Cake in the Polpo cook book, I guess it just goes some way to reinforcing the fact that it’s a great and classic flavour pairing. This cake is still quite different however; I’ve introduced just a little cardamom to the batter as I wanted a subtle spice element, this lends a curiously mysterious note and another depth without tipping the balance. It’s the best cake I’ve made for some time, not too sweet, with a hearty gravity and sticky crust; sharp juice and zest is tempered by faintly nutty flour and ethereal spicing then drenched in sticky, bitter and boozy syrup. I served it simply and delightfully with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, slithers of blood orange and scattered over chopped pistachios. A ray of rare ruby hued sunshine for the glummest month, it certainly perked up Blue Monday.
I’ve had my eye out for a good olive oil cake recipe ever since I first had the notion for this. I’m a big fan of a fair few of Dan Lepards recipes and so I’ve based this on his version printed recently in the Guardian’s first Cook supplement, I’ll admit his use of one of my favourite baking ingredients spelt flour was the clincher.
Makes 8 chubby wedges
150g light muscovado sugar
150ml olive oil
zest from 1 blood orange
juice from 1.5 blood oranges
150g spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds, I ground seeds from 5 pods
60g ground almonds
For the syrup
100g caster sugar
juice from 2 blood oranges
Heat your oven to 180 degrees and line a deep 20cm cake tin with baking paper.
Whisk eggs and sugar together until thick then add oil, blood orange zest and juice while continuing to whisk. Combine the flour with baking powder, cardamom and a pinch of salt then fold into the wet mixture. Pour into the tin and bake in the middle of the oven for around 45 minutes or until cooked through and a sharp knife inserted comes out clean.
Leave to cool then remove from the tin and place on a flat serving plate and prick the surface all over with a fork.
Dissolve caster sugar into the juice in a saucepan and heat until it starts to thicken and bubble, remove from the heat and stir in the Campari.
Carefully spoon the syrup all over the surface of the cake relatively evenly and slowly so it absorbs rather than runs over the edges.